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Talking Tactics

Maddison in the middle gives Leicester balance

Adrian Clarke 26 Sep 2019
James Maddison, Leicester City

Adrian Clarke says Foxes have better chance of breaking down Newcastle with midfielder in more central role

Adrian Clarke is looking at key tactical talking points ahead of Matchweek 7.

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Brendan Rodgers will be hopeful that James Maddison is fit to face Newcastle United on Sunday.

The 22-year-old brings versatility to a Leicester City side sitting in third place with ambitions of finishing in the top six come May. 

If he recovers from a knock to the ankle picked up against Tottenham Hotspur last weekend, where he plays will be a clear sign of how Rodgers plans to beat the Magpies.

Whenever the manager pairs him alongside Youri Tielemans in front of Wilfred Ndidi, it indicates they will adopt an assertive and forward-thinking approach.

In playing closer to Jamie Vardy, Maddison helped inspire wins over AFC Bournemouth and Spurs in Leicester's last two home matches.

Statistically, the Foxes are far more dangerous in the final third with him operating as a central attacking midfielder (CAM) than on the left wing (LW).

Their expected goals (xG) metric has been far superior in matches Maddison started in the middle.

But despite his influence in this position, it has not been Rodgers’ go-to approach in the opening weeks of the season.

Maddison impact on Leicester
Match Start pos. Shots Shots on target xG
LEI 0-0 WOL LW 16 1 0.72
CHE 1-1 LEI LW 12 3 0.78
SHU 1-2 LEI LW 10 2 0.77
LEI 3-1 BOU CAM 15 6 2.04
MUN 1-0 LEI LW 9 3 0.60
LEI 2-1 TOT CAM 16 7 1.29

In four of Leicester's six matches the Northern Irishman has sacrificed Maddison's flair and adventure in central areas for a slightly more pragmatic style.

Rodgers has instead placed extra importance on pressing and tackling in the middle, and so has picked ball-winning midfielder Hamza Choudhury.

As a consequence Maddison has been pushed to the left-hand-side of a 4-1-4-1 formation. 

Left-field approach

Maddison is not a natural winger so Leicester can look a little unbalanced when he is operating on the flank.

But one factor behind Rodgers' use of him there is the positional confusion he can cause in that role.

The playmaker likes to drift inside to find pockets of space. This in turn frees up extra room for left-back Ben Chilwell to storm forward.

And occupying those half-spaces asks questions of full-backs, who sometimes seem unsure about how far to track him.

Dream midfielder

In many respects Maddison is a manager's dream.

He offers Rodgers the option to alter his tactical approach without the need for a substitution.

We saw this in a 1-1 draw at Chelsea in Matchweek 2 when the Foxes produced an outstanding second-half performance.

Trailing 1-0 at the break, Maddison moved infield to play the second half at the tip of a diamond. It had a huge impact on the match.

Chelsea were unable to adjust quickly enough to his new position and he turned the match around by getting into some fabulous positions and setting up  Ndidi's equaliser.

On the back of a 2-1 victory over Spurs, which was decided by Maddison's long-range strike, I anticipate seeing him in a central berth if fit this weekend. 

Maddison's winner v Spurs

It is hard to envisage the need for an extra ball-winner in the middle of the park against a Newcastle side lying in 17th place with five points.

In a free box-to-box role the Premier League's most prolific midfield shot taker will need to be shackled very closely by the Magpies.

Most open-play shots this season
Player Shots
Sergio Aguero 21
Harry Kane 19
Teemu Pukki
James Maddison 18

On home turf especially this term Maddison will emerge as Leicester's chief creative force.

Also in this series 

Part 1: Everton must stop set-piece goals to challenge champions
Part 3: Blades midfield providing cutting edge as well as graft
Part 4: Arsenal must nurture bond between Pepe and Aubameyang

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